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This New Boyle Heights Coffee Bar Has Become a Gentrification Battleground

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Weird Wave Coffee is facing some serious backlash

Weird Wave Coffee, Boyle Heights
Farley Elliott

It’s been a rocky first week for Weird Wave Coffee Brewers in Boyle Heights. The small corner shop tried to quietly start serving several days ago, but almost immediately became ground zero for the very public discussion about gentrification in one of Los Angeles’s most historically Latino neighborhoods.

Weird Wave is a collaboration between three friends: John Schwartz, Mario Chavarria, and Jackson Defa, all of whom live in West Adams. They serve Heart Roasters coffee and a collection of pastries from Homeboy Industries from a smallish space right on Cesar Chavez, in the heart of Boyle Heights. As locals know, that drag (and others nearby) have become the de facto home for protests against Eastside business and residential developments that some feel do not reflect the culture and heritage of their neighborhood.

The location and the product (hip new coffee shops are often seen as the first wave of gentrification in American cities) puts Weird Wave right in the bullseye for negative attention from the neighborhood.

A protest group against the shop has already sprung up on Facebook, with members claiming that Weird Wave’s owners haven’t made much of an attempt to reach out to the neighborhood at all. Instead, they allege that Weird Wave has been deleting negative comments on social media, and have even called the police on picketers — one fact that Weird Wave agrees on.

Since then, the shop has had protesters out front nearly every day (though, when Eater passed through midday on Sunday to talk to both sides, there were none), and their Instagram account has been inundated with hundreds of comments on both sides of the debate.

Asked for a statement, co-owner Mario Chavarria sends along the below, in full:

At Weird Wave, our goal is largely to supply incredibly delicious coffee and non-alcoholic beverages to the community.

Weird Wave Coffee is a company owned by three individuals committed to a fair and consistent approach to the grass-roots enterprise of selling coffee. We recognize the role a coffee shop plays in a community, both as an advocate for that community but also as a vendor who's role in the local economy is impactful. At Weird Wave, our goal is largely to supply incredibly delicious coffee and non-alcoholic beverages to the community.

Weird Wave's approach to doing business locally begins and ends with keeping the flow of money inside the community. We take special pains to seek out vendors for our products who share our local-first approach.

An example of this is a local man who pushes a cart of fresh fruit and avocados up the street daily. He loves our coffee and we depend on him for avocados and fruit which we use in our sandwiches and salads. We could just as easily buy these products from a restaurant supply store, but our approach keeps revenue in his pocket while creating a connection to the community through coffee, thereby twofold tightening the fabric and creating culture.

Likewise, we maintain a connection to the farms and farmers who grow our coffee; each coffee's origin is meticulously tracked and we take great pride in offering this information to the curious amongst our customers.

These are just some of the details which we concern ourselves with daily at Weird Wave. Our approach to quality is what makes us distinct, but it's the connection to our community that lets us thrive!

Eater also reached out to members of B.H.A.A.D., the Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement, one of the organizations fostering the protests, but so far hasn’t heard back. For now, Weird Wave Coffee Brewers remains open daily from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. They also have a meeting scheduled today with councilmember Jose Huizar to discuss the situation.

Update: A statement from Defend Boyle Heights can be found on their Facebook page.

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